art, music, photography, random thought, travel

somewhere in the middle of montana… err… wyoming

i’m tired of this dirty old city.
entirely too much work and never enough play.
and i’m tired of these dirty old sidewalks.
think i’ll walk off my steady job today.

turn me loose, set me free, somewhere in the middle of montana.
and gimme all i got comin’ to me,
and keep your retirement and your so called social security.
big city turn me loose and set me free.

been working everyday since i was twenty.
haven’t got a thing to show for anything i’ve done.
there’s folks who never work and they’ve got plenty.
think it’s time some guys like me had some fun.

turn me loose, set me free, somewhere in the middle of montana.
and gimme all i got comin’ to me,
and keep your retirement and your so called social security.
big city turn me loose and set me free.

music © merle haggard

on special occasions, when my ipod decides to look kindly on me and bring me a gift by way of shuffle, this abrupt chorus of fiddle will perk my ears and lift my spirit. ¬†merle haggard’s “big city” always brings vivid images to mind. ¬†images with which i am quite familiar.

like i’ve said before, i go to wyoming at least twice every year. ¬†and this year’s no different. ¬†well, okay, so it’s a little different this time; to accompany me, i have a friend (who also happens to be a girl, and more, my sweetheart).

last fall i shared wyoming for the first time… with my brother (see “like brothers on a hotel bed”).

and this past winter, elle started traveling with me (see “january fan, july flame”).

and so it was… a perfect storm of relationship and forward progress. ¬†it was time for elle and me to see wyoming together…

elle works a regular job, so time is of the essence.  as a consequence, she had to fly, whereas i drove.  no matter.  it may be too early to ride 24 straight hours in the car together.  maybe not, but i was okay with not finding that out just yet.

i love my time alone in the car on the open road.  lots of time to think.  time to allow shuffle on my ipod to make me laugh, cry, contemplate, remember.

i arrived at the jackson hole airport on time, unlike for my brother only a year ago.  i came up from the south, and avoided the painful crawl of yellowstone.

elle couldn’t believe she was finally here.

poor girl.

she’s had to listen to me “sell” the mystical land of wyoming to her for the past four years, with no way of judging for herself.

“so what’d’ya think!?” i asked when i first¬†saw her.

“ohhh aaaannnndddrrruuuuu!!” she exclaimed, as she so often does.

“it’s wuuuunnderfullll!”

so we left the “bustle” of jackson and the parks, and headed straight for green river lakes.

the upper green is one of the most beautiful places in the world, by my calculations, so i figured it was worth a quick look.

it did not disappoint.  elle was floored.  but we were heading into the heart of the wind river mountains the next day from a different point of entry, so we had move on.

we awoke at soda lake, near pinedale, like i’ve done so many times before… alone.

for breakfast, we watched a bald eagle soar across the surface of soda lake.

we quickly made our way up skyline drive to elkhart park, where we were to meet mike and ellen.

ellen brought her horses, jazz, comanche, and pistol pete.  this was to be a genuine pack trip, though elle and i would be on foot.

quick backstory on my friend mike… although a very compelling novel could be written on this guy.

when i first moved to pinedale, wyoming, my publisher, rob, was giving me a run down of the newspaper, the town, and it’s people. ¬†he made a very specific command for me not, under any circumstances, to take any info or quotes from a guy in town named mike ramsey. ¬†he said it was because mike was always full of, you know what. ¬†but i knew there had to be more to it.

big mistake, rob.

not more than a week later, i was enjoying a cold beer at the brew pub, and who do i get introduced to? ¬†none other than the “infamous” mike ramsey.

if you haven’t gathered yet, i’m the type that immediately becomes intrigued when someone makes a point to tell me not to do something without a very good explanation. ¬†now this can be good and bad. ¬†luckily, this time it turned out to be good… i think.

we hit it off, and over the next few months we would spend hours in the car together looking for bears and telling stories from the backcountry.  whiskey was often involved.  it took a while, but in spite of me being a texan and a dumb kid, i think mike started to enjoy my company.

and now, over five years later, i still see him every time i’m in his neck of the woods. ¬†for some reason he still puts up with me.

something else about mike you should know; he spent over twenty five years guiding hunters and fighting fires in the maze that is the wyoming wilderness. ¬†the wind river mountains, teton wilderness, the gros ventre, yellowstone… he’s the guy you want with you if you want to make it out alive.

so months ago, when we talked about planning a pack trip for this summer for us and the two ellens, i knew it would be unique and memorable for all.

off we went.  into the wilderness.  from elkhart, we took the pole creek trailhead.

it was july 4th weekend, but there were still plenty of snowbanks. ¬†elle was very excited to see snow in july…

the scenery was breathtaking.

and then we made it to photographer’s point. ¬†easy to see why it’s called that.

freemont peak towered in the background as ellen and mike enjoyed the view.

then, possibly the highlight of the trip for elle, a ride in the mountains on pistol pete.

just five or six miles in, we made it to our first camp at eklund lake. ¬†we went up to mary’s lakes, but there were no suitable corrals for the horses, so eklund it would be.

buster was a perfect camp dog.  and i swear he ate better that weekend than i typically do on a good week back home.

that’s definitely one of the joys of packing in your food and gear on horses… ¬†usually i only carry what i can on my back, so as you might imagine, i eat a lot of peanut butter and ramen.

elle and i posed with our “bear spray”. ¬†large caliber pistols and shotguns are better deterrents in my opinion than traditional pepper spray when you’re in grizzly country…

we took the horses to feed in a nearby pasture, and i think elle made a real connection with them.

it was a beautiful sunny afternoon in the mountains, so we relaxed, and enjoyed the quiet.

the next day, due to an ankle injury suffered the night before, elle and i decided to only hike up to mary’s to fish. ¬†we would also stay at eklund as our base camp for the next few days. ¬†no need to push ourselves to hard. ¬†we were on vacation after all!

our time in the winds was over.  elle and i had to start making our way north to jackson, closer to the airport.  sadly, she would have to leave the next day.

we decided to spend the day in the tetons.  so we hiked jenny lake.

…elle’s favorite spot… ¬†the view and the fact the she had to leave soon made her cry. ¬†i wished i could make it all better for her, but i couldn’t. ¬†i wished i could just make the world right, but i can’t. ¬†so we decided to just enjoy what we could, while we could. ¬†that seemed to help…

i no longer identify with certain parts of mr. haggard’s tune, like i have in the past. ¬†i mean, i’m pretty blessed with what i do for a living. ¬†i often get to go to the mountains, and it’s hard for me to say that i feel like what i do is “hard work” with a straight face. ¬†don’t get me wrong; work is work. ¬†but i’m fortunate to love what i do.

however i kept getting the feeling that elle could really identify with parts of the song. ¬†you know, parts about too much work and not enough play, or dirty cities, or working every day since age 20, etc. ¬†it made me sad for her… but it also made me really excited. ¬†see, she has such a unique appreciation for this place that i love so much. ¬†i’m excited that i got to be there to see it light her eyes, to watch it grow in her, and ultimately to see it make her cry.

it reminded me of my first experience in wyoming one magical summer almost ten years ago. ¬†i’m happy to be with her as the magic of the memories start in her now. ¬†and i was starting to enjoy the fact that i now could again identify with a song, through her eyes.

our time together was over… it was so hard. ¬†normally i’d be happy to push someone off onto their plane… anxious to have wyoming all to myself once again. ¬†but those days have passed for me.

after i saw elle off, i drove up through yellowstone to cooke city, montana.

yellowstone lake was surprisingly calm.

with no cell reception and a heavy heart, i made it all the way up to cooke city and lulu pass.

i climbed as high as the snowbanks would allow in my new car. ¬†this forester had to be tested, and i’m happy to say it passed.

when the car wouldn’t go any farther, i got out and went on foot to the highest point around to get a better view of where i was…

i remembered my last experience in this place.

and it occurred to me that it was time to move on.

in more ways than one.

so i left montana as quickly as i came.

on the way back i watched a mother grizzly with two cubs lumber across the hillsides.

they started to get a little too close, so i moved on…

on a whim, i decided to take union pass back to green river lakes. ¬†it’s a relatively deserted 4×4 road through beautiful and rough country. ¬†a place that i’ve found myself stuck many times before. ¬†where you may not see anyone for days.

when i finally arrived at the lakes, the area was shut down for camping due to a menacing male grizzly.

so i camped near pinedale.  and i forgot all about the big city that night.

i went back out to green river lakes the next day.  squaretop mountain greeted and seemed to call to me.

so i decided to leave the comfort of my car and hike deep in to the base of squaretop…

it was a dramatic journey. ¬†the clouds began to form out of nowhere, as is their mood in the mountains. ¬†a sow grizzly with two cubs had been seen recently near the trail, so i kept my .45 loaded and my hand near it’s grip.

only five or six miles in, i reached the park that sits at the very foot of squaretop.

the mood grew eerie.  and i grew increasingly lonely.

i felt dark days from my past crowd in on me.  i knew it was time to lay them to rest.

on my way back, far off in the distance, i noticed something large bobbing in the upper lake.

as i approached, i began to see that it was a moose swimming across the lake…. what a sight…

it started to rain as i neared the trailhead.  melancholy crept in with the changing weather.

but i had a feeling this too would pass.

there was a lot going on in my heart and head on this trip. ¬†different than any other time i’ve been up there.

but it was good.

i know it was good… all of those thoughts to wrestle and subdue…

as i approached my car, i turned back for one last look.  and i noticed a man fly fishing by himself.

i took a picture of him because it was beautiful.

but also, because it made me sad. ¬†the solitary life – that life that i’ve known so well, and that i loved.

and i thought to myself that all things must pass.  all things must move on and grow.

and i let go of it.

and i was happy.

happy that i had a wonderful woman, my best friend waiting back home for me.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2010

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family, music, photography, random thought, travel, writing

like brothers on a hotel bed

wyoming is not a place i share with other people. ¬†i do it alone. ¬†that may sound like a prick thing to say, but it’s true.

i go up there to experience solitude, peace, fear, loneliness.

this trip was a little different though.

i arrived to jackson hole airport late on tuesday afternoon.  i was supposed to be there by 3 that day to pick up my brother.

the inbound flight from austin arrived on time, so he took a taxi into jackson to get a beer. ¬†i told him i’d meet him there as soon as i could. ¬†the traffic coming down through the parks was miserable. ¬†it seems they always scramble to make improvements to the roads just before the ground freezes. ¬†thanks.

i finally made it to snake river brewery, after dark. ¬†but the alone time in wyoming didn’t seem to bother my brother.

after a hug and a few beers, we were off.  it was dark, and i have a spot in teton park that i always go to camp when i arrive late.

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we woke up the next morning to a cool autumn breeze, and my brother’s 34th birthday.

two months ago he called me. ¬†“there’s a fare sale to jackson hole. ¬†$89 each way from austin,” ¬†he said.¬†¬†“you planning on going soon?”

“well, yeah. ¬†i was planning a fall trip. ¬†september or october. ¬†why? ¬†you wanna go?”

i started to get excited.  no one had ever expressed this much interest or determination to go to wyoming with me since my mother visited 5 years ago when i lived there.

i was excited at the prospect, but then nervous.  could i share this place with others?  would they understand it?  no matter.

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most guys have the idea that if they’re spending any time in wyoming and montana, they better have a fly rod or a pair of skis. ¬†and i think they’re right. ¬†it is world class skiing and fishing, after all. ¬†no snow yet, so my brother brought a friend’s rod.

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we took a drive one evening up the beartooth highway outside of cooke city, montana.

regarded as one of the most spectacular drives in north america, the beartooth runs from red lodge, mt to the northeast entrance of yellowstone national park.

the beartooths are one of the highest elevation and most rugged areas in the lower 48 states, with 20 peaks over 12,000 feet in elevation. the road itself is the highest elevation highway in wyoming (10,947 feet) and montana (10,350 feet), and is the highest elevation highway in the northern rockies.

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we fished the lamar, the snake, the yellowstone, among others.  to no avail.  it may have been too late in the season, i guess.

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the fires in northwest wyoming were in full force this time of year though.  they even closed a few of the roads in yellowstone, preventing me from returning to the lamar valley.  very sad.

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but the drama of it all was truly impressive.

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the fire on the banks of jackson lake at dusk.  breathtaking.

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the next day, there was an unavoidable haze that covered the sky and mountains.  but again, to the naked eye, it struck as a little bit of a downer, but the dramatic effect can be artfully employed with a camera.

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it was my brother’s last day. ¬†he had a flight out of JAC in the afternoon, so we found a section of the snake river, just 10 minutes from the airport. ¬†he wanted to give it one last go.

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he didn’t catch anything, but i was happy. ¬†i think i got a few shots of him in this unreal landscape that will draw others in, and take him back… ¬†anytime he wants to go…

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i’ve never shared this place with anyone before. ¬†but it was really nice to do so. ¬†to see the look on someone else’s face the first time they see the sun rise over the lamar valley of yellowstone, or the moon as it hovers over the tetons before dawn…

the way the fiery autumn leaves shimmer in the cool breeze.  awaking in the cold to the sound of bull elk in rut, bugling.  or the sound of wolves.

it’s all so beautiful. ¬†i’m glad i had my brother there to share it.

i hope there’s more sharing of this place in the years to come. ¬†i’m ready for it.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2009

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random thought, travel, writing

random morning thought: montana

6-19-09

though i slept at the cooke city dump again last night, when i awoke today, the sun greeted me.

it was so bright, i almost expected it to talk to me in a low, cartoonish voice, and extend its two scoops of raisins my way…

— shallow thoughts by andrew slaton

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photography, random thought, travel, writing

journal: montana

6-18-09

my car is facing away from the mountain. ¬†i wake to the cold and rain. ¬†it’s 5:30 a.m.

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behind me, the mountain is covered in a thin fog, like a bride under her fine lace veil.  she thought she was hiding from me, but how could i not notice her?

cooke city, montana has always treated me well, but this morning, i feel lost.

i rolled in late last night. ¬†weary from the road and rain. ¬†the miner’s saloon, as inviting as it always is, seemed distant. ¬†they only take cash, and the big city man i am, i only had plastic. ¬†no problem, i thought. ¬†this always happens. ¬†luckily, they have the only atm in town. ¬†i slid the blue card in nice and easy, and yanked it back in a forceful, but fluid motion. ¬†“out of order.” ¬†!?!? ¬†but i had already started drinking my beer!

i apologized.  the bartendress seemed annoyed at my genuine apology.

“well, i guess this one’s on me,” she said angrily.

i finished my free scapegoat pale ale and left.

my usual “free” campsite at the edge of town was closed with no explanation. ¬†i put “free” in quotes because i believe you’re supposed to pay. ¬†but i always seem to pull into cooke city after dark… so, i never have.

i decided to park at the old city dump, on the other edge of town.  it only takes about two minutes to walk from one end of town to the other.

i reclined the driver seat of my chevy aveo rental, wrapped myself haphazardly in a sleeping bag, and called it a day.

now here i am; seven hours of restless sleep later.

the sun rose somewhere already, but not here. ¬†the cloud cover is thick, and there’s a light drizzle. ¬†35 degrees. ¬†massive lodgepole pines in front of me absorb the rain like thirsty sailors imbibe on the first day of fleet week.

lately my heart’s been heavy like a sandbag.

this morning is no different. ¬†in fact, today it’s worse.

it feels like someone tied a cinder block, or a dozen, to my chest, and dropped it in the deepest ocean.

if it felt possible to cry, i would. ¬†but i wouldn’t know what for. ¬†after all, i’m in one of my favorite places in the world.

so i decided to start my day.

i made a cup of coffee and rolled a cigarette. ¬†yeah i know, i quit smoking three years ago. ¬†it was three years ago almost to the day when i started again in spain. ¬†then it continued on into lebanon…

you can smoke anywhere in lebanon. ¬†just walk into the airport in beirut with a lit cigarette, and see if i’m exaggerating.

so, unfortunately, for a time, i’m smoking again.

slowly my mind and body, cold and slightly wet from the night before, begin to wake up.

the lamar valley of yellowstone anxiously awaited my arrival. ¬†but the sun still hides it’s precious rays.

in spite of my thoughts, behind the clouds, the light is there just waiting for me to remember it still exists.

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all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2009

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film making, photography, random thought, travel, writing

…last week in wyoming…

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one of my first, and best, friends when i lived in wyoming was kim. ¬†she recently got married and had a gorgeous little girl, kate. ¬†first thing’s first… i had to go see them.

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now on to my animals.  a coyote searches for food in the elk national wildlife refuge near jackson.

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two ocean lake in teton wilderness provided fantastic scenery.

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on the way out of two ocean and pacific creek, one of my favorite views of the tetons materializes quickly.  almost out of nowhere, the jagged peaks come into view with force and drama.

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then, of course, the jackson lake dam provides unimpeded views of this beautiful mountain range, the grand tetons.

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a lone big horn ram wandered, grazed.

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early in the morning, the elk eat dew-covered grasses.

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lamar creek.  the hidden gem of the lamar valley.  always one of my favorite spots to sit in the morning.

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the lamar valley in the summer is a haven for the american bison.  they graze it heavily in massive swarms.

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the lamar valley is also home to many bears. ¬†this pair, one black bear and one cinnamon black were inseparable as i watched them cross miles of open landscape. ¬†i saw this same cinnamon about four years ago in the exact same spot. ¬†glad to see he’s got a lady to keep him company now…

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bull elk are scattered across yellowstone this time of year.  typically alone, they seem to know that the autumn rut and breeding season will be coming in a few short months.

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sulphur stained ponds dot the landscape of yellowstone.

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a lone black bear on the northeast entrance road scavenges in the shadow of the mountains surrounding the montana/ wyoming border, near cooke city.

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not even a mile away from the bear, a fox too looks for an evening snack.

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on the road to lulu pass, just outside city limits, seedlings, clear cuts, mountains, and sky provide the backdrop for cook city, montana.

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early morning, heading back from a night spent at the cooke city dump, the mountains and fog performed a ballet.  mist danced across the tops of trees as the light watched passively from behind the clouds.

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and it only gained dramatic crescendo as i made my way back, further into the lamar valley of yellowstone.

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after a long morning hike up the side of a peak in the lamar, a lone antelope kept his distance.

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a 45 minute exposure at oxbow bend in grand teton national park, well after sundown.

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morning glow over the tetons.  i love waking up to this view!!

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mid-morning at oxbow bend.  light slowly makes it way toward me from behind, painting my canvas.

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jackson lake was glass.  a rare site.

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string lake, near jenny lake, grand teton national park.

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back to my old haunt in sublette county… green river lakes in bridger-teton national forest.

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the lower lake was in tumult, with wild winds from the south rumbling like a freight train through the valley toward the upper green.

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the green river was calm the next morning, though the sky overhead read drama.

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i hiked the highline trail toward the upper lake.  squaretop mountain spectacularly reflected the patches of sun.

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i followed massive grizzly tracks all the way to the upper lake about three miles.  it was not alone.  two smaller sets of tracks alerted me to the fact that a sow with two yearlings could be around any bend.

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on the way into little soda lake, the aspen groves catch a reflection more colorful than reality.

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cactus patches keep me aware of where i place my feet…

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just a few minutes from the front door of my old house in pinedale, soda lake reflects the wind river mountains, creating impressionistic hues that would make any artist salivate.

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2009

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